April 10, 2019

#2ndCareerDev - Switching Careers and Attending Bootcamp???

11 Women and 11 Men graduate from Rutgers Coding Bootcamp - May 6, 2017

Changing careers is tough.

For many people, it is also an absolute necessity. As valuable as a good college education is for one’s development intellectually, morally, and socially, graduation does not guarantee a life-long career. The more degrees one obtains come higher-level and yet more narrow opportunities. Such opportunities fade into nothing if just can’t break-in your desired field.

Over the past three years I have received several phone calls, emails, and direct messages asking me for advice, whether or not one of my friends or their loved ones should consider a career change like I did.

There are a lot of very talented, highly educated people stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs, or who just can’t break in to their dream field.

I’m writing this post for them and for the many others out there like them. I want to answer some of the most commonly asked questions I have received. I want to be specific to my particular set of choices, recognizing that everybody’s situation is different. I also want to humbly admit that I’m writing from a Western, middle class perspective. Not everyone is afforded the types of opportunities from which I have derived great benefit. This may look different for someone in a developing country, and the sets of choices you have will lean away from formal programs that cost a lot of money. If this is you reading this post, I sympathize with you and want to be an encouragement to you in any way I can. Hit me up on twitter and ask me any questions you got.

This is the first post in a series on my decision to switch careers, attend a bootcamp, and land my first dev job. This post will cover the first two questions in the list below:

Questions I’ll Answer to Aid Your Decision Making Process Through This Series

Why You Could Consider a Career Change into Web Development

Web development is one field where you can break-in without a college degree majoring in some technological discipline. The need for developers, data scientists, cybersecurity specialists and many other types of programmers and developers is on the rise. Don’t miss something from that sentence. There are a wide variety of growing fields in the tech job market, of which web development is one.

The job market is competitive, it takes a lot of effort, a lot of networking and building relationships and a little bit of luck to break into tech full-time, but it is possible because the resources to attain the skills necessary to do the job are readily available for free, with minimal cost, or sometimes with more than minimal cost. Nevertheless, switching careers is such a difficult task to undertake, you must be desparate for the change. You have to be willing to go all-in with time, money, effort, and focus.

Why I Had to Switch Careers

The year was 2016; I found myself and my family in a desperate situation. We had moved to New Jersey/Metro New York as part of a Christian ministry, and we have moved without having a full-time job in place. At the time, having an earned PhD from an accredited instituion, I was teaching online for a couple of also-accredited schools. I was able to add to that a part-time gig teaching formal and informal logic, bible and theology at a private school. Honestly, I thought we could make it while I sought either regular Professorship or simply transitioning from my previous full-time job in academic administration to a new institution in the New York area. The NY/NJ MSA is home to hundreds of institutions of higher learning, certainly I could get one to hire me. Fast forward three years, a few hundred applications, a dozen or so interviews, being passed over as a finalist half of those times, and zippo offers.

I was loving life serving a loving group of people as one of their pastors, but my family was just scraping by. The more time that passed, the more useless my resume became, as I had to explain my increasingly longer employment gap. We were on the brink of bankruptcy, and I needed marketable skills where I would be in demand.

Before plunging headlong into the humanities, I completed and enjoyed several years of computer science courses between high school and my first year of college, albeit twenty years prior and with languages like Basic, Pascal and Fortran. Still, even as I pursued philosophy and theology over coding and programming, I never lost my love for tech, becoming the de facto software trainer whatever job I found, culminating in my last academic job, which I loved, in Institutional Research, where I got to play around with SQL queries and advanced Excel spreadsheet programming. It only made sense that I pursue something like web development. Moreover, I was living just a few miles from Silicon Alley - NY has a bustling tech scene and I wanted in, I needed in.

I didn’t fully realize at the time all of what it was going to take to break in, but I was in desparate need and I knew that I could do it and would like doing it.

Why You Should Consider Attending a Web Development Bootcamp

As a preface, let me once again express that I sympathize with those in economic situations where this is not a real possibility. Let me encourage you to look to all those who have worked hard to become quality self-taught programmers. They have put in the long hours and many, many months (sometimes years) to better themselves with marketable skills. I would highly recommend free online bootcamps like FreeCodeCamp and edX courses like Harvard’s CS50

Coding Bootcamps are designed to impart to students techinical training and programming skills that are valuable to employers. They are high-paced, very intense, and can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to complete. Most require significant pre-bootcamp coursework - usually the fundamentals of HTML/CSS/JavaScript or other primary coding languages. Depending on the duration of the program, they will require anywhere between 20 and 30 hours of time outside of class for homework and projects, and the more time you put in on, the better return you will have on the investment. They are not cheap. Some will offer free tuition in exchange for a hefty chunk of your salary from your first full-time gig, others want cash upfront, with costs ranging between $10,000 and $20,000.

Why I Chose to Take Out Loan for an In-Person Bootcamp Experience

I chose to go into debt and pay to attend an in-person, intensive coding bootcamp. And, after going through the experience I still recommend it. Here are the reasons behind my decision:

First, I am an academic at heart, who loves teaching in the classroom, and yet I also have years of intense experience teaching and administering online courses. I know from experience that classrooms and face-to-face instruction/interaction seemed ideal for learning new stuff, especially new stuff that was going to lead to a new career. (Trust me, I know how impersonal and sometimes how downright crappy online instruction can be - get a bad curriculum or bad instructor or bad grader or a bad school just looking to turn a buck, and good luck!).

Second, I know myself. While I have no problem learning things independently, I also am a very eclectic and distracted learner. I can be reading Plato’s Phaedrus one day and watching Periodic Videos, Numberphile or SmarterEveryDay the next. I could see myself pouring into some online tutorials, and then getting sidetracked by Melville’s Moby Dick for a week or three. I needed a rigorous schedule with clear goals and guidelines.

Third, I know from experience and study the value of a learning community. We need people to challenge us, to push us, to correct us, and to interact with us, as humans, in general. Personally, I need people around me on the same journey. Online community is great, and the coding community on Twitter, blogs, Gitter, Slack, whereever is great, but still not the same as people in person.

Fourth, I desired some sort of organization that has connections with companies for job training and job placement. I didn’t know anyone who lived in my region who could help me get an in for a job. Most bootcamps have some sort of relationship with local and sometimes national and international businesses and they also have some sort of name recognition outside of those relationships. Moreover, I figured there would be previous graduates from the bootcamp who could be an advocate for an open position in my local area.

So, then I had to choose, which bootcamp would I seek to attend?

I knew nothing about recent technology or what to begin learning. My dev buddies mentioned things like Angular or React, which sounded eerily foreign to me at the time, even if they sounded like cool names for a night club. I always wanted to learn more MySQL, and I’d heard of Java, and JavaScript, though I didn’t know they weren’t even related languages to one another.

Where to begin and which school was going to take me there?

I found in my local area there were a few of bootcamps in Manhattan—The Flatiron School, General Assembly, Fullstack Academy, to name a few—but I found just one on the Jersey-side of the Hudson. They had started up a year earlier, graduating a few folks. I could check out their projects online. It was Rutgers Coding Bootcamp.

Nothing against the programs I didn’t choose; plenty of folks jump into tech after completing those courses. I found that each of the programs all had similar curricula. I ended up choosing Rutgers, and I’m glad I did.

If you live near a large city with major universities, odds are you will find a Trilogy Education Bootcamp. Honestly, I can’t more highly recommend them. Of course as an alumnus of a bootcamp, I can sound biased. But I’m not saying any bootcamp is perfect. None are, but in spite of the imperfections here is why I chose to go with them at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp. Maybe some of my reasons will resonate with you.

Why I Chose a Bootcamp by Trilogy Education

Financial Assistance: I really needed financial assistance to attend a bootcamp. I couldn&t afford to work for a discount after graduation, so the free-now/pay-later scheme was highly unattractive to me. Also, I had no assets to foot the bill on my own and I probably couldn’t qualify for an affordable personal loan. Most of the loans offered through other bootcamps were high interest (12–15%) and I wanted to take advantage of the fact that in the US, student loan interest can be tax deductible. Being connected to a major university, I could qualify for a student loan through Sallie Mae with a decent interest rate.

Relevant Curriculum: I asked my buddies to look at Rutger’s Curriculum and they all gave it a stamp of approval. They were teaching the newest tech that was in the most demand at the time. Moreover, the bootcamp advertised they were in constant communication with employers and updating their curriculum to fit the needs of the market. Trilogy continues to tweak its curriculum to meet local market needs, from a brief perusal over various programs around the country, and they are adding tracks in other in-demand fields like data science and cybersecurity.

Appropriate Pace: There are some bootcamps that require 40–60 hours per week of your time to complete, just in class! I found this undesirable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is only so much new content you can consume and internalize within a given period of time, especially if your goal is to master that material. At some point, the law of diminishing returns begins to apply. Secondly, I was already committed to 40+ hours of time between my teaching responsibilities and my ministry position. I could not give that much time, nor afford to stop working. What stood out about Rutgers is that they offered two timelines—a full-time twelve-week curriculum, or a twenty-four week flex curriculum. I preferred the longer curriculum to allow myself to dedicate between 20 and 30 hours outside of the ten hours of class time to learning and to also allow myself to continue to supplement my instruction with other training materials, books, and projects online.

Name Recognition: I’m sure employers are familiar with the various bootcamps in Manhattan, but Rutgers University has global name recognition. It’s a major research university, renowned for its academic standards (if not for it’s athletics). I have no clue where my career will take me in twenty years, but twenty years from now, who knows what bootcamps will still be around. My resume will always have Rutgers University attached to it. Even if the Bootcamp is in the Continuing Education department, I still have a certificate issued and sealed by the University. I’m a Rutger’s Alum. On LinkedIn, I rarely come across a job opening at a company that hasn’t hired a Rutger’s graduate - instant connection.

In Conclusion

I hope posting some of my own personal rationale behind my choices can be helpful to you. You will certainly have different circumstances and different criteria to base your decisions upon. I respect that.

The next time I post in this series I want to handle the next three questions, though I might split it up even more:

  • How Can I Prepare for a Coding Bootcamp?
  • What Do You Learn in a Coding Bootcamp?
  • What Does a Coding Bootcamp not prepare you for?
Wesley L. Handy

Written by Wesley L. Handy who lives and works in Virginia Beach, VA, finding ways to build cool stuff in Gatsby and React. You should follow him on Twitter